Rebel attacks deepen displacement crisis in DRC’s Ituri province

One month since rebels closed in on Drodro village in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the once bustling wards of its hospital are empty, and Dr James Semire strolls the darkened corridors wondering when patients will dare to return.

The community is one of many in Ituri province’s Djugu territory that has seen a surge in attacks by a coalition of militia groups called the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO). About 550,000 people have been forced to flee their homes from January to March, according to United Nations (UN) data.

Dr Semire said members of the Hema herding community started to abandon Drodro in mid-March before a rumoured CODECO advance. The group – which claims to defend the interests of Lendu farmers, who have long been in conflict with Hema herders – is one of 120 known militias that have destabilised the eastern DRC since the 1990s.

Most Hema locals had left by March 22, the day CODECO fighters took up positions on a hillside near Drodro in broad daylight, the doctor recalled.

“Suddenly, someone came to tell me that there were gunshots outside,” said Dr Semire, who also fled his home but still works in the hospital in case any people come in needing treatment.

“There are repeated attacks,” he said. “This delays the return of people here because it creates doubts.”

The CODECO raids have worsened a longstanding humanitarian crisis in Ituri province, where 3 million people are in desperate need of aid, according to the UN humanitarian agency.

Driven from the sources of their livelihood, Ituri’s displaced people have gathered in areas of perceived safety such as Rhoe, a camp of ramshackle huts near a UN peacekeeping base north of Drodro. Its population has nearly doubled to 65,000 since the beginning of 2023, according to camp representative, Samuel Kpadjanga.

The needs of the camp’s residents are acute. Some dwellings are little more than ragged lengths of canvas stretched over sticks. Many residents are also traumatised after losing their homes and possessions and suffering physical or sexual violence, said Grace Mugisalonga, a mental health expert at Rhoe for the medical charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). -Aljazeera

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